March Madness may be played on the hardwood and shot through hoops by tall kids ranked by brackets, but there is another bunch of March foolery going on right now under the surface of many area lakes.
Indeed, the area’s female walleyes are just about ready to deposit their eggs in hopes that a male walleye will be on hand to fertilize them.
It’s a process that takes place every March but for the most part, it’s an effort in futility since hardly any walleye spawning done naturally in Ohio’s impoundments is successful.
That’s a maddening scenario since walleyes are the favorite fish for thousands of area anglers but there is a bright side to the story and the best storytellers are based in Akron at the Division of Wildlife’s District Three office.
Employees there were charged with gathering 270 quarts of walleye eggs recently, an amount that when fertilized with the milt taken from male walleyes will provide about one-half of the total walleye needed annually to stock Ohio’s many lakes.
According to the Division of Wildlife, quality walleye fishing opportunities would not be available to Ohio’s fishermen without this egg gathering effort.
Walleye eggs are forced from female fish caught in several nets set in Mosquito Lake in Trumbull County north of Warren. The eggs are then delivered to state fish hatcheries at several locations where they will be will be hatched by the millions and soon after stocked in designated lakes.
Walleye stockings can take two directions. Some lakes are stocked with tiny fry in April while other newly hatched fry are allowed to grow to fingerling size and then released. Some Ohio lakes are primary walleye lakes but others, like West Branch reservoir in Portage County, are assigned other game fish.
West Branch is designated as a muskie lake and as such receives immature muskies each year. Some walleye eggs are fertilized with sauger milt and the result is a walleye off-shoot called saugeye, a slightly smaller version of a walleye, a fish that looks and acts pretty much like a walleye but does much better in turbid or dirty water.
Atwood Lake is a sauger lake. So, one might ask, why aren’t Ohio’s walleyes able to reproduce naturally? It’s because Ohio lakes are short on sandy or gravel bottoms, favorite spawning sites for walleyes. Because Ohio reservoirs and lakes are most often silt and mud bottomed, and the water is usually dirty, walleye eggs just can’t survive.
Lake Erie’s walleyes are all produced naturally. There, the most noted spawning grounds are shallow reefs of the western basin where the fish cast their eggs. Spring winds keep the clear water moving and the fertilized eggs clean.
But even in Lake Erie, walleye spawning success is iffy because winds and weather can turn ugly in an instant, destroying the bulk of the eggs.